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Why Calorie Counting Didn't Work for Me

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Not so long ago in a neighborhood near you, I was an ardent believer in calorie in minus calorie out. But once I took a close look at the numbers, I noticed that my weight loss didn't follow the pattern. 500 calorie deficit a day did not lead to 1 lbs of weight loss in a week. If the theory was sound, then it should be consistent and repeatable. Or it should at least be close.

The main reason that calorie in minus calorie out derailed my weight loss goals was because of a false sense that I could 'make up' less than optimal choices with more exercise.

"I burned 300 calories on the elliptical, so I can eat ice cream today and it will cancel out."

"I shouldn't have eaten the ice cream. Maybe I'll do another workout today to cancel it out."

I got rid of the idea there are 'free' calories and I can 'cancel' out my choices with more exercise.

Exercise became a form of torture and punishment. I had to exercise to 'work off' my bad choices. It was a terribly unhealthy attitude.

Couple of months ago, I ate birthday cake because, well, it was my birthday! No regrets. I'll do it again next year.

I am now a believer that weight loss is a function of hormonal balance, rather than calorie arithmetic. Exercise we do and foods we eat cause different hormonal responses. Balance of good quality food and moderate exercise leads to good health.

I still track my food, but I don't worry about making the calorie ledger balance. I use food tracking as an accountability tool to make sure I'm eating enough of the right things. It's all too easy to have a treat food here and there, and think it's only occasional. But when I log my food, it's harder for me to have amnesia on whether I had ice cream only once or five times last week.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    good post
    1940 days ago
    Great post!

    2038 days ago
    I can so relate to this post! Thank you for sharing.
    2044 days ago
    Still working on extricating that thinking: "the idea there are 'free' calories and I can 'cancel' out my choices with more exercise. " It's gotten me into lots of trouble!

    2051 days ago
    AMEN, Sister! Us "engineering" brained ones have a hard time with this one... but it's true, calories in can't always be cancelled out by more calories out!!!

    I like to think of weight loss as more of a science experiment... if you get AL of the factors just right, you might be lucky enough to tip the scales in your favor, but even get just ONE factor wrong... and the experiment will NOT fly!
    2054 days ago
    Calorie counting is much easier on the "in" side than the "out" side. I lost weight back in the days before anyone discussed exercise as part of a weight loss plan; it was all about the food. We ate the same plan regardless of how much we did or didn't do. As soon as the though enters your head that you can eat more if you (fill in the blank with exercise) you have missed the point of the discipline required to keep it off for the rest of your life.
    2055 days ago
    NEILITHICMAN: I know where you're coming from, but food we eat isn't converted into energy unless our bodies are able to do something with it. Fiber, for instance, contains calories, but is completely indigestible in our systems. Therefore, we get zero calories from fiber.

    Glucose is always used or stored because that is the way our biology developed (glucose used to be sparse). Fat and protein are more flexible, and can be used, stored, converted, or discarded depending on the dominant hormones involved.

    One way glucose makes it easier to gain weight is because it doesn't trip satiety hormones the way fat and protein does. A 1200 calorie Big Gulp doesn't make you feel full, for example.

    Hyperthyroidism can lead to weight loss due to over active thyroid. Opposite in hypothyroidism. Type I diabetics have difficulty gaining fat due to lack of insulin. These issues illustrates what happens when too much or too little of certain types of hormones are released.
    2056 days ago

    Comment edited on: 11/1/2012 4:29:51 PM
    Agreed that it's not an exact science, I never had exactly 1 pound for every 3500 caloies deficit . But logic still tells us you still need to burn more calories than you're feeding into your body to lose weight. Eating 2000 calories a day, even of healthy food, and then only doing 20 minutes of light exercise is not going to see a drop on the scales.
    2056 days ago
    "I am now a believer that weight loss is a function of hormonal balance, rather than calorie arithmetic. "

    Totally stealing this because it's SO true!
    2057 days ago
    Doesn't it strike you that the articles even here on Spark and across the weightloss website world talk about the calorie deficit idea like it's incontrovertible fact, that you MUST lose a pound for every 3500 calories less, and in the next sentence they say "Well, it won't always work out to exactly this, so don't feel bad if it doesn't... but if you fail to lose exactly 1 lb for every 3500 calories you don't eat, it's you. You failed some way by licking the spoon, salting your hard boiled egg, or missing 1.7 oz of water. This is a physical law, and if you can't lose weight this way, it's your fault."

    Okay, maybe it doesn't say it just like that, but the blame is still there shrouded by feel-good buzzwords like "motivation."

    2057 days ago
    I completely agree with you! I did the same thing for a long time! Now that I eat Paleo, the foods I eat are healthy and my body knows when it needs food and when it doesn't. I am not a slave to cravings anymore and I eat as much as I want (of the right foods) and I lose weight. I dont count calories but I do keep track as you said so I know Im getting the nutrition I need. Great job coming to this realization rather than just giving up when the numbers didn't align! emoticon
    2057 days ago
    Good job. It is really more than calorie counting. It is developing healthy eating habits that will stay with you even after you have reached your goal. I'm no math whizz so counting calories was never an option for me, but I found that keeping the food diary and exchanging unhealthy foods for good makes it a lot easier and it is a habit that I know will continue long after I reach my goal weight. emoticon
    2057 days ago
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